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10 March 2009

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations in Manila, the Philippines

I was ["was" because it is not available on the local stations here in Wellington :-(] a regular viewer of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations back in the Philippines and enjoy watching his food escapades because he tells it as it is. No sugarcoating. As they say, a great way to learn about a culture is through its food.

Word has been circulating in the blogging community for months about the show doing a special on the Philippines. And it's about time too! Mr. Bourdain has been in many countries in Asia, save for the Philippines! We have Augusto Elefano, a Fil-Am from New York, to thank for that.

Anthony's adventure takes him to Manila's Chinatown, Pampanga which is north of Manila, and the city of Cebu in the Visayas cluster of islands. I am not going to do a narrative of his trip here; to watch the segment is the best way to appreciate it after all (and I have Youtube to thank for that!). I'm writing about it because I immensely enjoyed the show. I smiled, laughed, and my eyes even misted over on a couple of scenes.

Anthony had a taste of street food (chicken balls), pancit malabon (which was erroneously identified by the guide as pancit palabok, unfortunately), some seafood, greens, fruits (I saw green mangoes with bagoong!), veggies (pinakbet!). He had a beer drinking session on the streets of Pampanga as he was introduced to sisig and other porky goodies (and this happy scene made me miss my friends in Manila!) He also had papaitan (also called pinapaitan) made of goat innards. My parents cook a mean papaitan! They would usually cook it together because it involves a lot of cleaning and cutting.

And then he had lechon, the ultimate in porky goodness!

It is overall, a great segment. Anthouny Bourdain also touched on the important topic of "What is Filipino cuisine?" What is it, indeed, and how come it is not as world-famous as our Asian counterparts? It is in fact a difficult question to answer. Because we have over 7,000 islands (I think it's 7,109), diversity is very rich in our country. We cook our food in as many ways as we have dialects!

My mind was racing as the show ended. It was a great introduction to what the Filipino can offer, but there is still a lot more to offer! The Ilocanos of the North have their Dinengdeng, Vigan has their bagnet and their yummy sausage, for example. We have dishes inherited from our Spanish colonial times and adopted for the Filipino taste (Anthony saw a lot of American influence and saw our Chinese community so I think it will also be great for him to see the Spanish influence in our food).

We also have a lot of rice cake varieties! Suman, bibingka, puto bumbong, sapin-sapin, puto, kutchinta, patupat, palitaw... I am a HUGE fan of our rice cakes.

More importantly, I think that the humble kinilaw should have been one of the highlights as well. I read in a Philippine cookbook that kinilaw (also called kilawin) has been with us even before the Spanish times. The art of having raw fish (also meat in some areas) get "cooked" by soaking it in vinegar as a main ingredient is something uniquely Filipino.

I was also thinking that since he always had a bottle of San Miguel beer on hand, it would have also been great to have him sample our local alcoholic beverages: lambanog and basi. But he did, only it did not make the cut. A big shout out to MarketMan (and the other hosts) for a job well done!

Lastly, I am in admiration for Augusto Elefano who, inspite being in the Philippines for a week or so some years ago, he found it to be a life-changing experience and he is very proud of his Filipino heritage, eager to learn more. He might not know it, but being a bit reserved and shy is a common Filipino trait! He said he is a bit sad because he was raised and immersed in an American environment and to some extent, has lost his Filipino side. But seeing him as a toned down character versus his video oozing with excitement (something which Mr. Bourdain noticed) and his enjoyment of the unique Filipino cuisine makes one realize thartthere is a lot of Filipino in him. Thanks Augusto for making this happen!

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